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Violence forces South Sudanese into unsafe camps

75,000 people have left their homes to seek shelter in UN camps
75,000 people have left their homes to seek shelter in UN camps

Peace talks have resumed in South Sudan, but displaced people fleeing violence are now facing difficult and unsafe conditions in the country's UN camps.

South Sudan is the world's newest country, but it is facing some sadly familiar problems. Since December last year, almost half of the country has been in the grip of a violent civil war between rival political factions. Most worryingly, the conflict has taken on ethnic overtones and has already claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians. The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is now struggling to cope with the growing number of people who are fleeing the violence.

As it stands, 75,000 individuals have abandoned their homes and made their way to the presumed safety of UN compounds. From Bentiu alone, 20,000 have fled after anti-government forces were alleged to have carried out ethnically driven killings in the city. The camps are guarded by some 7,000 UN peace keepers, but this does not mean they are safe places for individuals and families.

Unsafe camps

Despite the UN’s protection, the camps have been breached on a number of occasions. In December, 20 civilians and 2 peace keepers were killed in Akobo, in the east of the country. More recently, on 17 April the Bor compound near Bentiu was attacked by youth armed with rocket propelled grenades, killing 60 people before they were forced out.

The conditions within the camps are equally challenging. Talking to IRIN news, Nyabuok Dup, a resident of one camp, says that whenever the rain comes the temporary shelters that everyone lives in are devastated by the water. Combined with overcrowding and poor sanitation, this flooding has also created a breeding ground for disease and infection. Despite these poor conditions, many see the camps as their only chance for safety and continue to arrive in increasing numbers.

Taking action

It is essential that the security and conditions of the camps are improved soon. Stefan Liljegren, Médecins Sans Frontières' field coordinator, tells IRIN that a lot more needs to be done to help people fleeing the violence. Other aid organisations and even the UNMISS head, Hilde Johnson, agree that there is a long way to go before the camps can cope with the number of displaced people they are seeing.

SOS family in Malakal
SOS families evacuated from our Children's Village were forced to leave the UNMISS camp for safety in the capital Juba

Already there are plans to bolster the numbers of peace keepers in South Sudan, increasing the total from 7,000 to 12,500. This would certainly help to ease security concerns, but an arrival date for the additional forces is yet to be set. Equally, UNMISS has been working hard to open at least 3 more camps before the heaviest rains hit in May. However, these camps are already over a month behind schedule and the situation on the ground changes rapidly. Adapting to these changes will remain the key challenge for those seeking to help civilians affected by the violence.

The impact on SOS Children

The SOS Children's Village in Malakal was evacuated when fighting in the area threatened the welfare of the children living there. We wanted to keep families close to home, so we moved them to the city's UNMISS camp. However, when conditions deteriorated, we moved them to safety in the capital Juba.

Find out how we are supporting the children in our care at this challenging time.